For more than 15 years I’ve made the business of these public presentations my business, trying to take artist intent and historical context into account alongside actual execution. It’s a complicated formula that remains something of a moving target, with each column offering its own challenges and rewards.
Over the course of my career, I’ve had the great pleasure and honor to write reviews on more releases, performances and exhibitions than I care to count. Some have been critical, others favorable and all, as far as I’m concerned, fair. What I have never done – or had done until recently – is consider putting my own work through that process.
While it would be impossible to write a review of my own work – my objectivity has its limits – a recent review by another Augusta publication of my opinion pieces regarding the Westobou Festival has me concerned that perhaps a lack of clarity regarding my process and goals has given people the wrong idea.
I don’t write reviews because I want to be negative. Rather, I want to offer an objective critique that might help an artist or organization grow. This is particularly true when dealing with homegrown talent. I see a review that offers both praise and constructive criticism as a potential tool for growth. That’s my hope anyway.
The truth is, I can think of few instances where I have written an unabashed rave without offering advice and even fewer that were focused on acts I felt were without redemption. A well-written review, I believe, illuminates the good and bad, the things that work and the things that need work.
When I was doing more straight reporting on the local arts community, I had an editor tell me my job was to be a reporter, not a supporter. I feel like that same ethos applies to my columns and critical writing as well.
There are those, I know, who argue that as a member of this community I should concentrate on celebrating its successes. And while I relish the opportunity to do that from time to time, I don’t see that as my primary goal. Instead, I prefer to offer objective perspective on what works and what doesn’t work in the hopes that it might improve subsequent releases, exhibitions and performances and, by extension, the cultural life of this community as well.
I understand that not everyone will agree with everything I write. It’s the nature of a column, particularly one that traffics in critical analysis. And while my Westobou column published Oct. 10 garnered attention and conversation – exactly what I hope happens every time I fire up the old laptop – it’s hardly the first time my work and opinions have come under fire – A review of The Passion of the Christ had moved one reader to predict my eventual damnation, and an offhand dismissal of Peter Frampton’s solo work led to an e-mail by the man himself.
While I certainly prefer compliments to castigation, I have to admit I’m always pleased when people respond – either positively or negatively – to my work. It means they are reading and, more significantly, that I have broached a conversation.
And that, in the end, is why I write.